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Chapter Five: Date From Hell

January 26, 2011

Over the next few days, we exchange more messages. We learn that we share similar ideas, both don’t like consumerism or materialism, he doesn’t like to eat meat, I prefer vegetables. He listens to classic-influenced heavy metal music, which makes me smile a little…perhaps he had long hair past his shoulders and wore black trenchcoats in the past. I am curious about meeting this ma, so propose to meet him for a hike up Mount Takao on Saturday. He says yes, but I am so preoccupied with work so I reply only as an after-thought and am cautious about how many details I give about my life. My emails remain brief and to-the-point, so unlike the endless long diatribes they would later become.


He asks for my real name and I am about to reply, “Alana,” but decide to go with my Japanese name, “Yuki” — 雪, snow. It’s the name my parents gave me after seeing snow for the first time in Lethbridge, Alberta, and I’ve always longed for the opportunity to use this name which sits quietly on my birth certificate and driver’s license. “Alana” is flat like the prairies and lacks romance — it’s a default name chosen by my father because it contains no Ls or Rs, the bane of all Japanese speakers.

We are to meet at 11am at Shinjuku station, Oedo line’s entrance (Nishiguchi). My heart beats in anticipation for what is my first date in at least five years.

I wake up at 5:30 on Saturday, my heart filled with anxiety and hope. Out my tiny prison-bar window, I see that the sun is shining — yes! The weather gods have answered my prayers.

I want to make a good impression for our first date, but after all we are going hiking, and I don’t wish to look like a foolishly vain Japanese girl. Pulling on the simple purple tee from my photo and a vivid violet Uniqlo hoodie, I wiggle into a pair some purple tights with a short, short jean skirt and consider my look complete. I ponder buying makeup at the convini  to liven things up, but decide against it — better save that money for the train ride there.

When my train arrives at Shinjuku, my heart pounds with equal amounts dread and anticipation. Like a rush of blood cells, the passengers burst out of the sliding doors and flow down to the main artery of the Shinjuku passageways to the East Gate, the West Gate. I’ve been to many big city stations in my life but this one is an evil monstrosity of tunnels and passages, a maze that swallows newcomers and spits them out disoriented — trying not to lose my way, I follow the dark pink circle that signals “Oedo station” — I speed-walk past the glitzy fashion stores that flank the way to the Nishiguchi and finally come to the dark, dreary gray-blue opening of the Nishiguchi Oedo Line.

Then I see you: at first I half-think it is a mistake.

You are absolutely huge, and a bit thicker than I had first imagined. The first word that comes to mind is “giant” — he is wearing a bright red tanktop and long black shorts, and is listening to music while staring intently at the map (the squiggled mess) of train lines in front of us.

“Uhm….Josef?” I venture.

You whirl around. Your eyes startle me with their blueness. Photos indeed lie — they are not a dark brown, like I had expected.

“You a-re Alana? I ehm Josef,” you say, plucking white earphones out of your ear.

Your accent is heavy like syrup, and I struggle to hear what you said. I believe I called you “J” osef, despite looking up on the internet that Czech j’s are pronounced as ‘y’.

Exchanging nervous smiles (or maybe you are not nervous, I can’t tell), we buy our tickets and walk over to the Sobu line, where I have checked earlier on Hyperdia as the fastest way to get there. The large yellow train arrives, and we enter.

You hang on the train’s metal bars with huge bare arms, I feel so small and childish next to you. I bring up music, then politics, consumerism and such. At this stage, I am not accustomed to your accent and hardly understand what you say, but only ask you to repeat certain sentences that seem key to our conversation, so that the pace of our exchange is unbroken.
From what I can make out, you have a passionate dislike for America and suggest that  feminism has gone too far and that many women would be happier as housewives rather than insisting on having their own careers. I am vaguely unsettled by this thought and carry on the conversation, wanting to know what you think.

Outside the train window, a vast expanse of soulless and bleak buildings stretches out as far as the eyes can see. These buildings have a different kind of sadness than what I feel in the center areas of Tokyo like Shinjuku and Shibuya: those buildings are covered in garish advertisements, swirling with the frenzied ambition and energy of millions of Japanese and foreigners. This place is calmer, emptier, like the timid reservoir of those who wish to be close to Tokyo without being burned by it.

We talk and talk about random things, and I notice that the stations somehow don’t look right: it has been an hour, and we should have been there by now.

I walk over nervously to get a closer look at the small map of the train statins pasted on the train. My skin crawls with dread. Wrong train!!
This is Tokyo, land of the infinite trains, and it appears I have led us onto the wrong version of the correct which leads to a totally different destination: not Takao at all, but some strange path diagonally north from it, Okutama.

“Uh….I’m sorry, it looks like we took the wrong train: we have to get off here.” I choke out, turning red with embarrassment. You bat an eye, but show no anger as we walk out the doors in the next stop.

We get off, and the cool, concrete platform greets us in stony silence. There is no one else on the platform but us. The next train, the one that takes us back to a transfer point, comes in 20 minutes.
“Sorry, sorry,” I apologize. “It’s a Sunday, so the trains don’t come as often as usual.”

You seem a bit perplexed, and with good reason. I have already been to Mount Takao before. But seeing me flustered and apologizing, you gently pat my head with his big hand, as if to comfort a crying child. I am caught off guard, but find myself moved by the compassion you show — judging by the behavior of most men I know, I expect you to throw your hands up in frustration at any moment, bitterly muttering insults under your breath.

To fill up the silence, I start talking more about heavy metal concerts. It is a stereotype, but the metal fans I imagine always have long hair and unruly beards, wearing long black leather jackets and tattoos on their skin. You are blond and clean-shaven, and moreover seem to be the sporty athletic type.

You tell me that the people at the heavy metal concerts are in fact from all walks of life, some of the most polite and genial people you’ve ever met, apologizing if they bump into you and being careful not to leave a mess after the event. I’m intrigued by this thought, and reflect on the opposite case, where so-called spiritual people were fighting and on the verge of strangling each other over the last tickets to the Dalai Lama’s speech in Vancouver.

The train finally arrives.  We get on, and ride again, but I am so clumsy and disoriented, I take the rapid train that goes past the correct stop to get back on the right train, so we have to get off again.
We have already wasted one hour waiting.

I cannot stop apologizing and feeling stupid for the delay. Secretly  I curse the laws of karma for working in inverse — Oh Loord, Have Mercy! I bellow in my mind, in the voice of an elderly black man in America’s deep south.
True, I’m clumsy at the core, but I give money to the poor, always give a hand where help is needed, and bitch about no one at work — and yet in the moments it counts the most, I am turned into a walking Failblog content generator. Why, Lord, why? Perhaps it’s because of my impure motives for seeing you.

Finally, the train arrives at Takao. “Finally,” I smile and we get off the train. I calmly ask the train employee, a graying man in his fifties, where is Takao mountain, and he tells us we are at the wrong stop: we have to go back and take another train, take one more stop to the entrance of Takao mountain.

Now, the drains from my face. I’m no longer blushing, but turning white from disbelief.
“What? But we’re at Takao, right? You can walk to the mountain from here, no?” I ask the man, but he shakes his head solemnly.
“Ehhhhhhhhh, no. You want to get to Takaosanguchi, which is at another stop,” he rasps in his scratchy, cigarette-tinged voice.

Bejesus! I swear in my mind. By this point, I am by now in denial of reality, not comprehending how I could have messed our first date up so badly. I blow past the employee and lead you out to to the city, telling him we can walk to the mountain, it will only take 30 minutes. We walk and walk for a bit, but finally, I concede that I do not know where we are going and we go back to the station, waste 160 yen on another ticket, which I might have paid on his part, maybe not. I do not remember. The memory passed its “too-embarassing-to-recall” threshold awhile ago, and the precise details have been blocked from memory.

We finally get to Mount Takao at 1pm,a full 2 hours behind schedule, and I am so mortified I cannot speak. When we arrive, Josef notes quietly, without a tone of anger, that there is in fact a a direct line from Shinjuku to Takaosan. We could have arrived quite quickly, without the endless transfers to nowhere. I shake my head in disbelief and hurry toward the mountain entrance. I just want to get this over with.

We walk up the mountain. It’s sunny, and the shade of the trees helps cool down my blushing heart. I try to gage how fit he is by measuring how tired he becomes up the first few kilometers of the mountain. He is very fit, I conclude, as we walk up the steep, daunting hill in silence. He does not even pant, nor do I, while the young couple ahead of us (who we soon pass) is panting and falling behind (the boyfriend chides his exhausted girlfriend for letting a girl in a miniskirt hike much faster than she is).

We walk and walk up the steep slope, and I realize that my new companion is a very strong climber, physically fit. The other day, I walked up the same slope with a colleague of mine and he was stopping every five minutes, shirt drenched in sweat. I suspect you are a seasoned hiker and am not so far off in this guess.

The mountain is serene, and filled with damp, shaded greenery and tall trees, a paradise compared to the noisy chaos of the city. Afternoon sunbeams shoot through the leaves, which quiver in the wind to create a dancing light display along our path as we walk.

What were we taking about again, on that hike? Our homelands, that’s right. The  The Czech Republic, that’s right. We talked about Kelowna and Brno (I couldn’t catch the name at first, it didn’t register until many months later). You went climbing in the Swiss Alps, which was very nice, and I talked about how there are many mountains in Kelowna, my hometown — the land of bears, wine and calm mountain hikes like this one.

Although my initial impression was mixed at best, I notice a few nice things about you as we walk: you hold your hand out to me, like a gentleman, when it comes time to climb up or down a rock, or scamper up a steep slope with roots blocking the way. Once or twice, I am able to manage fine without you and notice your hand only as it’s starting to withdraw: I reach out to take it, grasping at thin air, and I feel a stab of guilt in my chest for not taking up your offer for help.

Further along the path as we near the summit, the density of people starts to increase — soon, there are hundreds of people on the path. It feels less and less like we are in nature. We go past the mochi and manjyu vendors, past the stalls with old white-haired ladies selling cold beer and green tea. One store seems to catch your eye: it’s ice cream. I start talking excitedly to you about the different flavours of ice cream in Japan, and tell you must try this one, because it’s the cherry blossom ice cream that I saw last time I was here. As we approach the stall, my heart sinks —- it’s grape.

Rolling my eyes that nothing seems to go right today, I try to steer you away but you try the ice cream anyways, and it is delicious. I later learn that you’re something of an ice cream aficionado, and that you would never turn down the opportunity to try a strange new flavor of ice cream.

We climb quickly to the top and then climb back down: the summit is quite anti-climatic, just a dry plateau of land where old people much their lunch on benches, or eat soba noodles in one of the two shops taking advantage of limited competition and a hungry crowd.

During our mostly wordless descent, what I remember most from the climb is the image of your wide back and large muscled buttocks. Well, I won’t be seeing any of that after this date, I think to myself miserably, looking down at the rocks while we make our way back.

On the train back (one that goes directly to Shinjuku), we are exhausted and a bit covered in mud. The train is crowded, it is 5 pm and the hikers are all going back to Tokyo. We don’t talk much, I apologize again for making us waste so much time in getting up the mountain, then mumble something about being tired.
You turn to me and say, “You can rest your head on my shoulder.” I am surprised again, but take up his offer: it is the very first time in my life that I rest my head on anyone’s shoulder. It feels broad and sturdy, like a warmed pillow, like a man’s shoulder. I close my eyes and to my own disbelief, fall asleep — the next time I open them, we are arriving at Shinkuju station, the train is crowded with people standing tightly packed in front of us, and I jolt awake to see if I had left any drool on your shoulder, although at this point it would only be another notch in the endless humiliations of the day.

We walk out. It’s dinnertime.


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